Chin-wagging with FAULTS director Riley Stearns and leading lady-cum-missus Mary Elizabeth Winstead

We loved FAULTS (read our review), which opened for its limited US release last weekend, and we predict would rile a bit of a cult following (get it?) if it came out in weirdo-central UK. We were very lucky to speak to the first-time-features director Riley Stearns and the compelling leading lady Mary Elizabeth Winstead about what it takes to make a debuting masterpiece like FAULTS…


So first of all, Riley: where did you find your inspiration for FAULTS? Did you have to do a lot of research into cults and cult mentality?

Riley Stearns: Luckily, I was quite into cults when I was younger – reading up on them and watching documentaries on them etc. So it’s not really that I had to do research for making the movie, but all my readings and watchings as a young adult and growing up contributed to the writing of the script. Particularly the idea of reprogramming was something I always thought could make an interesting feature, and when I got the point where I wanted to move from shorts to features I went back to that idea and knew it was the one for me. I didn’t want to get too bogged down in the facts and reality of how something would happen. It had to be grounded in reality, but ever so slightly hyper-real and stylised. I looked up terminology here and there but a lot of it was just my imagination.

And Mary, I’ve read that you’ve said this was your most challenging role – in what way and what specifically did you have to do to prepare?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: I think what was so challenging about it for me was there were just so many layers to her. She really is several people within one person, and you can’t let all of those people out at once. She’s very calculated in who she chooses to be at one time. I wanted to capture those specific sides, but it was a fine balance of not showing too much and overacting it and at the same time not underplaying her. I had to bring complexity to her but keep a lid on it – it was all just bubbling under the surface. I think that’s one of the most difficult things to do as an actor. You have all this emotion going on but you can’t let any of it out. It was tough, but good-tough.

Interview-Mary-Elizabeth-Winstead-Talks-Faults-ExclusiveI found she was a very complex female character and it was refreshing to see that. Did you feel that, and if so how did that compare to your other roles?

MEW: Yes, that was something that was very exciting to me. I think when my husband was writing her, he knew there was no way he could present me in a non-complex female role!

RS: And nor would I want to.

MEW: Exactly, he knows how few complex female roles there are out there for women and he’s as frustrated by it as I am. This is the kind of role I’m always looking for so I was so grateful that he wrote it for me. I was very lucky. It was such a challenge to chew on, and it’s a rare opportunity.

It does seem nowadays that those kind of characters are reserved as secondary in films, but with Faults it became increasingly clear that she was central to the story.

MEW: That’s what I loved about her. She starts out as secondary but as the film goes on, she takes over as the lead. And then the last scene almost switches to her perspective which is really cool. It’s a great shifting of the power-balance moment for sure.

mary-elizabeth-winstead-in-faults-movie-9So Riley, for me watching the film, I felt the time period was quite ambiguous. Was that intentional?

RS: Definitely, I think that’s the desired response. That’s what I was going for. It takes place in the mid-80s but that’s never stated in the film and that’s not important. I wanted it to feel timeless and like it could have happened in the mid 70s, or mid 90s, but always small-town, middle-of-no-where, and anonymous. I want someone to be able to watch it ten years from now and not see an iPhone or a car that makes them stop for a second and think “er, this is old!” I wanted it to feel old right away, as if we’ve beaten them to the punch. But not old in a period way necessarily. For example, when you see old cars in the background, that could just be because you’re in a small town and people are more likely to have older cars… so it was calculated on our part but not intended to change your opinion of the film. It should be up to the viewer if they choose to take it as a period piece or a modern film.

And for both of you, how was it working together and being married? Were there any complications or…?

RS: Well, we’ve done a few shorts together, testing the waters, and once we got to features we knew we had a working relationship that was really positive, smooth and easy-going. I can trust her and know that she can deliver in a scene. And I think she got to a point after reading my material and being involved in my shorts where she knew what I would bring as a director. We had total faith in each other, we had people telling us you don’t wanna work with your spouse! That;s going to ruin your marriage. But all the people who said that we realised didn’t know us very well, and all the people closest to us were so excited for us and we proved them well. We worked in tandem to achieve the exact same thing, and I would totally do it again. In fact, that’s the plan – to use her on the next one.

MEW: I think it was a natural progression for us. We just really like doing everything together so it felt right and it’s so rewarding. When I’m working on something he’s always so involved and my partner, even when he’s not on set I’m always telling him everything anyway, so it just felt natural.

75It’s great that you can elevate each other’s work like that.

MEW: It’s really lovely, and now we’ve done it once we realise why would we not do it again? We had a great time and it’s so easy to work together. If we could do every film together that would be perfect!

RS: I think we’ve shown them we work really well together on a feature level. So in terms of getting another feature made and proving we can do it, they now understand that’s not somebody doing a favour for their spouse but we actually work really well together.

So what’s next for you guys, separately and together?

MEW: I have a few things coming out; a show that premiered on Monday 9th March called THE RETURNED, and another movie that comes out in a month called ALEX OF VENICE that I’m very proud of. I’ve just finished shooting a movie with John Goodman in New Orleans where it’s just me and him walking in a cellar. I’m just waiting for Riley to write me my next role, really.

RS: Yep, that’s my next thing. So now that FAULTS has been released in the States it’s back to the drawing board and putting pen to paper for my next idea (which I have). It’s great to have the freedom from it now that it’s been released out into the world to do its thing. Incidentally, I hope we will get to release it over in the UK because the response we got at FrightFest 2014 was great – you guys really got it!

(It’s because we’re all a bunch of weirdos too, Riley.)


Read the original ScreenRelish interview here.


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